In 2007, John Edward Szeles, better known by his stage name “The Amazing Johnathan,” was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle that, if he didn’t receive a heart transplant, was nearly certain to kill him. Unfortunately, hospitals don’t give fresh hearts to patients with type 2 diabetes and a history of excessive, unrepentant drug abuse. In 2014, Szeles sold out his presumably final shows before announcing he had a year to live, and that he could drop dead literally at any moment.
In an interview in 2015, with diabetes eating away at the flesh of his legs, Szeles gave a candid statement about his longtime affinity for cocaine.
“Then, after John Belushi died, everybody stopped doing it,” he said. “It woke everybody up. It scared Robin [Williams] and it scared everybody else. It didn’t scare me.”
It’s now 2018 and Szeles is still not dead.
“Now I’m getting, “hey, aren’t you supposed to be dead?”” he jokes in a recent interview with CBC Radio, “I feel guilty for being alive now.”
Blood thinners and heavy weight loss have kept the reaper at bay and while nowhere near as prolific as he once was, The Amazing Johnathan was still touring and performing live shows as of last year.
Szeles is still dying, however. At one point he casually mentions that once every six months or so, tests confirm that his heart is still failing. A healthier lifestyle has slowed his decline, but there’s no coming back from this disease without a transplant, no matter how much kale he eats.
“I feel alright, to tell you the truth. I feel fine,” he says, “but the doctor tells me I don’t know what it feels like to feel good, that’s why I feel alright, you know?”
Despite his ailing health and the deaths of several of his friends, Szeles remains unapologetic about his drug use. When asked about Penn Jillete’s suggestion in the upcoming documentary about Szele’s life, Always Amazing, that he would have been a better performer without the drugs, Szeles is defiant.
“In the back of my head, I’m saying, ‘maybe he’s right.’ But in the back of my head I’m also saying, ‘maybe he’s wrong,’ ‘cos look at all the people who did drugs that were doing great. I mean, look at all the rock stars. Anyone who was great in my eyes went through drugs – went through drug addiction. Like John Lennon and Eric Clapton, those are the people I wanted to hang out with.”
“People who say that,” he adds, “generally, have never done drugs.”
Always Amazing will premiere on Saturday, March 10th, at the Rio theater in Vancouver.